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CPS: 41 children taken from sect compound had bone fractures

AUSTIN -- At least 41 children taken from the polygamist compound in West Texas had suffered bone fractures, some of them multiple times, which suggested a pattern of child abuse, the head of the state’s Child Protective Services told a legislative panel Wednesday morning.

Carey Cockerell, commissioner of the agency that oversees the agency tasked with providing emergency care for youngsters at risk of abuse, said that the monthlong inquiry that followed the seizure of more than 460 children from the Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado has been hampered by a lack of cooperation from both children and adults at the compound.

"This is the largest removal of children in Texas history by Child Protective Services," Cockerell told the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

Since the state took custody of the children, many of whom had children of their own or were pregnant, officials have encountered difficulty determining their parentage. Court-ordered DNA testing is ongoing to assist in that effort.

But Cockerell told the committee chaired by Lewisville Republican Jane Nelson that both the younger children and those who might be mothers of those children have systematically attempted to mislead investigators and caregivers.

Wristbands used to identify children have been tampered with, several women have claimed to be the mother of the same children and women have shared in the breast-feeding duties of the same children, Cockerell said.

To avoid jeopardizing the complex investigation into the allegations of widespread abuse at the ranch operated by the breakaway Mormon sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, or FDLS, Nelson instructed committee members to withhold public questions.

Cockerell, who said he has made on-site inspections of the children while they were housed in an arena in San Angelo, attempted to assure the panel that children have received topflight care while in state custody. Many have since been reassigned to licensed foster care facilities.

The children have been given ample facilities for recreation, clothing and food that conform with their religious beliefs and access to some educational materials. Cockerell complimented the sensitivity of the range of officials who have been assigned to the case.

"It was interesting to see DPS troopers in uniform playing kickball and pitch with these children," he said.

Child Protective Services is beefing up its caseworker staff to handle the influx of children from the compound as well as its legal staff to handle the ongoing challenge by the sect for the long-term custody of the children, Cockerell said.